reflections of a grateful son
Getting up at an ungodly hour on a Sunday, I hop out of bed then sneak downstairs. My father, the co-conspirator, equally unskilled in the culinary arts is already there, burning the bacon, attempting not to ruin the eggs. Realizing their fate is already sealed, he directs me to the grapefruits. Which I massacre, of course, because at six I have no clue how to slice a grapefruit.
“Maybe just use the juicer, that’ll work” Dad says.
Twenty minutes later, Mom is pretending to enjoy a breakfast in bed. Savoring the charred bacon, runny eggs, and pulpy mess of what sort of resembles grapefruit juice. If it tastes as bad as it looks, you’d never know from her expression. After breakfast, she opens, then beams at my homemade card, a colorful mess of a portrait of Frisky, the family dog. Today, I’d call it abstract. Then, just bad coloring.
That’s my first real memory of Mother’s Day. Forty three years later, it’s more complicated, but always bittersweet. Mom died in 2010, and since then I’ve usually avoided this specific holiday, focusing on other things, attempting, usually in vain, to keep the memories at bay.
So I don’t really know why this year is different. Maybe it’s the passage of time, maybe it’s finally being settled in a place I consider home, and maybe in part it’s due to reading this piece by Eric Griggs. For whatever reason, I feel I need to pay tribute to the woman who bore and raised me. And to the countless women I know, mother or not, who are part of my life now. Whether they be friends, relatives, or even other writers. I think we all know and appreciate the talent and sacrifice it takes to raise a child.
This specific memory is one I’ve written about before, but I think it’s an appropriate one for this occasion. It’s one of the last nights I spent with my mother, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer weeks earlier. It would turn out to be only four, short weeks until she died a quiet, peaceful death, comfortable in the home she’d shared with my father for almost forty years. I’m thankful that my myself, Dad, and even my crazy dog Singher, curled up on the bed beside Mom, had the privilege of being there when the time came.
Snapshots Of Nights Passed
I suppose the best way to describe a reality of spending anytime at all with my mother was the inevitable walk down musical memory lane. Mom had charted the map of central life events through music, each and every pivotal memory grounded in a song. Based more on sentimental attachment than symbolic relevance, her choices would often leave those around her scratching their heads in mild amusement. Or, occasionally, in vague confusion.
Which, of course, made it easy to understand why Mom would credit my enjoyment of sixties folk music one of her greatest parental accomplishments. Truth be told, I think she might have actually been right, since before I purchased my first album (the Grease soundtrack), the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Miriam Makeba, The Byrds, and Scott McKenzie were my childhood musical staples.
The official narrative around this issue would usually go something like it did on that Friday night, eight years ago. Plagued with a bad case of historical revisionism syndrome, mom will follow up her pronouncement of parental success with a most florid description of herself and my father walking in their Birkenstocks, long hair blowing in the patchouli scented breeze, casually picking flowers at a Woodstock inspired musical transcendent event.
Though it’s not until we arrive at the pesky reality of my birth, that there is a chance of breaking that rather colorful little re-imagining. But break it will, after being reminded that her child was born in an American military hospital in Tokyo, Japan, due to my father being a senior officer in what is now Canada’s equivalent to the CIA. Further proof is usually presented through pictures showing her own fashion influences of the time, distinctly and decidedly more Chanel №5 than patchouli, more Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s than those comfy granola Birks.
“Oh well, I would have been a hippy if it wasn’t for your father and his voracious support of the state”, she will usually refute in a faux serious tone.
Her gentle teasing poorly disguised, lost on absolutely no one. However that particular strategy never gains much traction though, since she is blaming her lack of flower child, mind expanding revelations on the man who left that same organization over his discomfort with violence and the unfair treatment of gay and lesbian recruits. Oh yeah, that.
When reminded of that small but relevant fact, Mom will just giggle, smile, and suggest she whip up a fruit and cheese plate. Or, God forbid, she will pick up her guitar.
So starts the night.
“Allan, did I ever tell you what song was number one on the American top forty charts the day you were born?”
“Why yes mother, you have. Several times.”
“Do you know, I think we may still have that song on eight track. Just going to run and check to see if it’s in your fathers den.”
My father’s den? That is an ambitious description. It’s a room that could legally be considered a fire hazard. There are enough keepsakes and memories housed in that ode to the last forty years to ensure one will not be returning before the change of seasons, should they risk entering.
No need to worry, it seems almost forty years in the same house allows one familiarity with chaos, and Mom returns several minutes later with the mini 8 track player and a surprisingly audible version of Georgy Girl.
To which she will joyfully sing (a somewhat generous use of the term) along, playing that damned guitar in unison. So many things I could say at this juncture, but instead I will simply offer an assurance to the band The Seekers that any concern over potential competition is most definitely misplaced.
I then have to make the point that it is, in fact, 2010, and these are post Google times. Thus, the reason that specific recollection results in a spirited disagreement between my mother and me over what song was actually the number one hit on September 8, 1967. Some references would site Georgy Girl, others would claim Bobby Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe.
But Mom is not backing down. She does, however, note the unfortunate irony in the movie of the same name, Ode To Billy Joe, suggesting a young man’s leap off the Tallahatchie Bridge was due to his shame over being gay.
“That would have just been bad karma, dear. And besides, the camp value in Georgy Girl is just too good to resist.”
A point that I am in every way unable to refute.
May 13 / 2018
I am sometimes shocked that Mom has been gone for eight years, as it often seems like yesterday. Today, looking back, I can say that she was a woman who proved to be my most enduring role model; a voracious supporter and tireless advocate of her only child.
Over time I have come to recognize that my grounding confidence in who I know myself to be, is evidence of just what was her truly greatest parental accomplishment.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I miss you everyday. And I would give anything to hear even a few chords from that badly-in-need-of-tuning guitar.